The Sunset Limited (2011)

If you’re like me, you did not know that Pulitizer Prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy (of The Road and No Country for Old Men fame) wrote a play called The Sunset Limited.  I’m not entirely sure who performed in it onstage, but this here is an HBO movie directed by Tommy Lee Jones.  Jones also co-stars with Samuel L. Jackson in what may be one of the most minimalist films ever filmed.  It could get more minimalist I suppose, perhaps just a picture of each of their faces with them reading the play.  Nobody do that.

Jones is White, and Jackson is Black, both literally and in the characters they play.  Black is a religious man, believing in God Almighty and such, while White is an atheist professor.  One morning, Black stops White from jumping in front of The Sunset Limited (a passenger train that runs from New Orleans to Los Angeles apparently).  Black’s desperate to turn White’s life around, and so begins a lengthy conversation about their respective lives, beliefs, hopes, dreams and more, all taking place in Black’s shithole apartment.

There’s not much to say about the direction, as it appears to be shot in much the same way one would view a play: the two characters conversing across a table, occasionally moving about, then returning to centre stage.  The acting is solid, the writing solid, and at times the movie is genuinely engaging.  I suppose your enjoyment of the film is dependent on how much you enjoy religious discussion, and since I’m solidly in White’s camp, I recognised Black’s passion, but I was bored by it.

3 / 5

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Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

After watching Episode III for the first time in years, I was struck by the fact that I seemingly enjoyed it far more than I did the first time I saw it.  It’s far from a perfect movie, but I’d definitely hold it up as the best of the Prequel Trilogy… now.  I used to give that underwhelming title to Episode II, but there’s a lot of good stuff going on in Sith, and it is probably the most schizophrenic of any of the Star Wars movies.

The first epic space battle sequence goes on for probably 30-40 minutes, starting with spaceships dog-fighting, then having Anakin (Hayden Christensen), Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor), and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) landing inside a star cruiser to rescue Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) from the evil Count Dooku (Christopher Lee).  It is a sequence that actually is quite light-hearted and struck me as more of a wacky buddy cop comedy vibe, until of course Anakin scissors Dooku’s head off.  Then there’s more absurdity, and then more darkness.  And it goes on from there.

Of course, this is the darkest of all Star Wars movies, with Anakin finally turning to the Dark Side of the Force and becoming SPOILER ALERT Darth Vader for the first time.  The execution of this is at times both brilliant and completely ham-fisted (“From my point of view, it is the Jedi who are evil.”).  The movie is a constant roller coaster, full of high spirits and funny line deliveries and then long, darker sequences dealing with Palpatine manipulating Anakin to joining the Sith, whoops another SPOILER ALERT.

I can see how people wouldn’t like it, but it’s actually grown in my estimation.  Sure, there’s the meme-worthy Vader freak out at the end that is laughably bad, but there’s also an amazingly entertaining movie in there too.  Wonderful action sequences that are gripping and – unlike oh I dunno, Michael Bay’s Transformers movies – completely easy to follow and understand.  Again, some of the dialogue between Anakin and Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) is bafflingly bad, but it does the trick.  The best way you can improve the Prequel Trilogy would be to actually find an onscreen couple that made you feel for them, kind of a Buffy / Angel thing that actually was heart wrenching.  Maybe Lucas will digitally replace Portman and Christensen in the next Blu-Ray box set.

3.5 / 5

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)

For many years, I staunchly defended Episode II as my favourite of the Prequel Trilogy, for many reasons usually relating to how awesome the rain planet of Kamino looked.  I mean, none of the Star Wars movies before it had anything really remotely resembling weather.  Yeah, there was a dust storm in Episode I, but really, it’s just wind, and Hoth in Empire Strikes Back was just cold, with another wind storm.  ANYWAYS, after watching it for the first time in years, well, it really isn’t as good as I originally thought it was, I still enjoyed it slightly more than Episode I, if only because of the payoff of Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) being the one character that is responsible for the downfall of the Jedi Knights.

The inherent problem with a Prequel Trilogy that isn’t a reboot, is that while yes, it is cool to see how these characters grew to end up as the ones we loved, there’s a lot less mystery to the story.  When Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) jumps out of a window on Coruscant to grab an assassin droid, I know that while he’s in a dangerous situation, he’s still going to be around come Episode IV.  This may shed some light onto why it seems McGregor is nearly always bemusedly smiling in every scene.  He has no fear, because he knows the history of his character has been written.  Kinda like another McGregor character, from Big Fish.

The Blu-Ray version is stunningly gorgeous, however director and writer George Lucas’ insistence on shooting nearly everything digitally looks downright terrible in some scenes.  Namely the digital stand-ins ones, like when Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) is riding that animal but it’s not really Christensen, just a terrible-looking digital replicant.  Or at least to my eyes it appeared that way.  Lucas still doesn’t know how to direct actors, or write for actors, as is evidenced by many painfully written scenes and directing choices he was completely fine with.

Episode II is kind of the weirdest of all the Star Wars movies, as it is essentially a companion piece to Episode I and III, not really the truest of sequels.  It seems to be filled with half ideas that will bear fruition in the future, but it doesn’t feel like a whole product itself.  It’s hard to explain.  There’s the weirdness of the Coruscant scenes – namely the fucking bizarre and wholly out of place Dexter Jettster diner scene – as well as the action sequence with Anakin, Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), C3-P0 (Anthony Daniels), and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) on the planet Geonosis.  That scene is straight up a video game level and it is preposterous.

I balance all that terrible shit with the awesomeness of the rain sequence, the light shed on Boba Fett’s origin, the epic Jedi battle at the conclusion, where we finally see Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) whip out his purple lightsabre, and the sort of silly Yoda (Frank Oz) and Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) lightsabre fight.  All in all, the Star Wars movies are popcorn movies, epic space operas, and this one certainly is another one.  I rate it the same as Episode I, but I enjoyed it a bit more.

2 / 5

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

As I previously mentioned, 2011’s #movieaday goal was based around watching 365 brand new movies (to me).  2012 will not have that limitation put upon them, which – honestly – makes it so much more attainable.  Also, I just did it, so I don’t care if I miss a day.  One of my Christmas gifts was the Blu-Ray box set of the Star Wars movies, all of them, episodes I – VI, the great and the bad.

I remember the anticipation for this movie as being, well it was the most anticipated thing of all time, anywhere.  The most modern thing I can attribute that to nowadays, would be the release of The Dark Knight Rises in several months.  It won’t be the same though.  I won’t be waiting outside until the ticket windows open, two weeks before the movie even hits theatres, no, I learned my lesson thanks to Episode I.

The hardest part when it comes to discussing the Prequel Trilogy is separating fanboy cronyism from actual film criticism.  Whatever you think of Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best), you have to be able to analyze the other aspects of the film, and just get over that completely righteous anger over Binks’ creation.  Because, even though he sucks (hard), there’s still a whole movie going on around him, and for the most part … well, it’s far below the standards of the Original Trilogy.

The two bright spots are Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor’s performances as Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, respectively.  There’s humour and heart and actual emotions in their depictions of the two Jedi Knights.  You could also say Darth Maul (Ray Park) was pretty badass, but that is tempered by the fact that SPOILER ALERT he gets killed off far too early.  It was also neat seeing Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu, clearly the most kickass of all Jedi Knights.  And there’s all the little hints and Star Wars nerdery throughout that makes it tolerable.

However, director and writer George Lucas made such a terrible decision when it came to Jar Jar Binks, that it overshadows everything else in the movie.  Jar Jar’s stench is palpable in everything, and there’s also the silly little decisions that Lucas made when it came to directing actors in the movie.  He’s not an actor guy, he’s the tech guy.  Even though McGregor’s performance is fun and good, he looks entirely too bemused at the goings on around him.

And then there’s Jake Lloyd, portraying the future SPOILER ALERT Darth Vader as young Anakin Skywalker.  So many dumb things included, like his “WHOOOAAAAA” when Qui-Gon lifts him into Anakin’s pod racer.  This kid has faced death on numerous occasions in past pod races, yet he’s amazed at being lifted three feet up in the air by a Jedi Knight?  Better, nerdier, fatter and more socially awkward people than I have written longer articles on all the things that are wrong with Episode I, and while I don’t particularly like the movie, it’s a kind of guilty pleasure for me.  After all, it still is Star Wars.

2 / 5

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

After watching all the previous Marvel Cinematic Universe film (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, and Thor), I was looking forward to Captain America and next summer’s The Avengers with great anticipation.  Especially The Avengers, because as both a comic geek and a Joss Whedon fan, I was going to see if the total package would come to a satisfying conclusion under a writer/director whom I had the highest respect for.  The fact that I’m more of a DC Comics fan than a Marvel Comics fan doesn’t even enter into it, because first and foremost, I’m a great movies fan.

And under director Joe Johnston, Captain America is a great movie.  Johnston had a previous olden times superhero movie under his belt, and despite last year’s exceedingly boring The Wolfman, he was a good choice for an action blockbuster film.  The important thing with a character like Cap, was casting perfectly, and I gotta say, Chris Evans certainly fits the bill.  He’s physically built for the part, but he also has the charm and humility (as evidenced in last year’s excellent Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) to pull off a character of Cap’s stature.

However, without a great villain to face off against, comic book movies often come up lacklustre and leave you wanting more, but not in that good way.  Thankfully, Cap’s nemesis The Red Skull is played by the tremendous Hugo Weaving, no stranger to comic book movies himself (V for Vendetta would have been lesser without him in the titular role).  There’s a deep list of character actors in the supporting cast, most notably the talented Stanley Tucci and the leathery Tommy Lee Jones.

The action scenes are amazing, the effects excellent, the attention to detail, the fanboy pandering, it’s all top notch and a great ride, even for those unfamiliar with the Captain America character.  However, the movie made the mistake (SPOILER ALERT) most comic book movies make in killing the villain, rather than bringing them to justice.  Although, there’s a possibility that Skull will be back, you never know.

4.5 / 5